Aleksander Barkov’s Path to Becoming Panthers’ Greatest Goal Scorer

There wasn’t much for the Florida Panthers to celebrate on Tuesday night in Newark, New Jersey. They got trounced by the Devils, 7-3, dropping their second game in two nights after going the first 11 games without a regulation loss. However, in what has already been a historic season for the Panthers, more history was made, as 26-year-old center Aleksander Barkov became the franchise’s all-time leading goal scorer.

Just 24 seconds into the second period, Barkov cleaned up a rebound in front of the net to notch his 189th career goal, breaking the Panthers’ franchise mark previously held by Olli Jokinen. It also extended his point streak to seven straight games (he has registered at least a point in 10 of the 12 games overall). Here’s a brief look at the road Barkov took to become Florida’s all-time leader in goals.

Barkov’s Early Years

Barkov, whose father (Aleksander Barkov, Sr.) is a former Russian hockey player, was born and raised in Finland. At the age of 16, he became the youngest player in SM-liiga (now Liiga) history to record a point, registering an assist in his first game. Hailed as an elite international prospect, he was selected by the Panthers with the second-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and signed shortly after.

Before being drafted by the Panthers in 2013, Barkov impressed in Finland (Photo: Jarno Hietanen)

On Oct. 3, 2013, Barkov became the youngest NHL player (18 years, 32 days) since the 1967 expansion to score a goal when he scooped up a rebound against the Dallas Stars, knotting the score at two in the third period of a game the Panthers would go on to win, 4-2. He finished his rookie season with eight goals (along with 16 assists) in 54 games. He took on a larger role the next season, playing in 71 games and scoring 16 goals (to go along with 20 assists).

Barkov’s Breakout

The 2015-16 season was when Barkov broke out as one of the best all-around players in the league. In 66 games, he tallied 28 goals (and 31 assists), and was a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy, given out for sportsmanship and quality of play. He also finished sixth in the voting for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded to the best defensive player in the league.

Barkov also made the postseason for the first time in his career in 2016. He scored his first playoff goal in Game 3 of Florida’s first-round series against the New York Islanders, burying a second period rebound to put the Panthers up 2-0 in a game they would go on to lose 4-3 in overtime. He would score one more goal in the series, which the Islanders won in six games.

Barkov’s breakout 2015-16 season earned him a six-year, $35.4 million contract extension from the Panthers. He followed that up with 21 goals and 31 assists in 61 games the next season, but he really took off in 2017-18, registering 78 points (27 goals and 51 assists) and finishing in the top five vote-getters for the Lady Byng Trophy and the Selke Trophy.

Barkov’s Ascension to Elite

Barkov turned it up another notch in 2018-19, producing his best season statistically. He played all 82 games for the first time, and a career-high 35 goals (and a career-high 61 assists) helped him win the Lady Byng and receive votes for multiple other awards. He became the first player in Florida franchise history to win the Lady Byng, and his 96 regular-season points were the most ever by a Panther.

With 20 goals and 42 assists (in 66 games played) in 2019-20, Barkov helped get Florida back to the postseason. He notched a point in every game, including a go-ahead power-play goal in Game 2, but the Panthers were dispatched in four games by the Islanders.

Aleksander Barkov Florida Panthers
Barkov has evolved into one of the top two-way centers in the NHL (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Although he didn’t set any career highs due to the pandemic-shortened schedule, Barkov had his best season yet in 2020-21. In 50 games, he scored 26 goals (and registered 32 assists), leading the Panthers back to the playoffs and finally winning the Selke Trophy. He also received votes for the Lady Byng (for the sixth straight season) and finished sixth in votes for the Hart Trophy.

In the 2021 Playoffs, Barkov tallied seven points (one goal and six assists) in a six-game, first-round series loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who went on to win the Stanley Cup. His excellent 2020-21 season earned him another contract extension, this time for eight years and $80 million. So far this season, Barkov has eight goals (and six assists) for the 10-2-1 Panthers.

The man they call “Sasha” has made quite a mark on the Florida Panthers, a franchise that came into existence two years before he was born. He already holds the franchise records for career plus/minus, and now he holds the record for career goals. He also ranks third all-time in power-play goals and second all-time in assists and total points (behind current teammate Jonathan Huberdeau). With a contract that keeps him in Sunrise until at least 2030, he’ll likely break a few more records before all is said and done.

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